2021 AP Exams Breakdown: What Can Students Expect?


Amid a turbulent school year for students and teachers across the country who have had to adapt to virtual learning, the College Board has released information about what AP Tests will likely look like when students take them towards the end of the school year. According to the information currently available, AP Tests will be administered in three different testing dates and will be available to be taken either at home, as 2020 exams were, or in-person, as they have been in the past. Regardless of where tests are taken, they will be full-length, unlike the online exams which were administered in 2020. 

Out of the three possible testing dates, Ms. Hardgrave said that “we’ve decided all across the district that we would do Administration #1.” This means that all AP exams will be distributed between May 3rd and May 17th. This Administration date has a focus on in-person testing, with the College Board stating that “all exams are full-length traditional format, administered in school.” Hardgrave expanded on this, saying that “[MBHS] would like to hold the test in person, that’s our goal.” Whether this choice will allow students who are not comfortable taking the test in-person is currently unknown, as Ms. Hardgrave expressed when she said that “there’s some[what] of a discrepancy in how everyone viewed some of the language around [whether we] are allowed to offer in-person and distance testing, or [if] we have to pick one or another.” However, the current assumption is that students will be able to choose between in-person and distance testing, with more clarification to come.

Given this structure of AP testing, students will have a significant choice to make in whether they will test online or in person. MBHS AP teachers Ms. Domenic and Mrs. McCall, who teach AP Literature and AP Chemistry, respectively, outlined the benefits and drawbacks of each form of testing. Regarding online testing, Domenic shared that taking tests at home “might actually lessen a student’s testing anxiety because they are in their own environment. Also, the College Board has given most AP tests that are online a later due date than the in person tests. This might allow for more time for students to prepare.” McCall offered similar advice, saying that a potential benefit is that students testing at home may be able to use their notes, but she shared that “I honestly don’t think that would help on an AP test” and could lead to “wasting so much time.”

However, testing at home also, as Ms. Domenic explained, “might be difficult for students if there are distractions at home that might make it difficult to focus. Technical issues might be an issue too with online testing if a student’s home connection is not reliable” and the later testing date, she continued, may be an issue for “someone who procrastinates, taking a test later in the year, especially if you have “senioritis,” might make it even more difficult to focus in preparing and taking the AP exam.” McCall also highlighted getting used to the online testing program as a potential challenge, sharing that “the upload process last year was very tricky and challenging,” although she clarified that she “did see this year that it’s all going to be online, where you’re going to type your responses.”

In terms of in-person testing, McCall shared that some benefits are that “you know what’s expected, you’re going to all all your answers down as much as you can…[students will] know my test is here, this is my allotted time frame.” For students who are used to testing in this more formal environment, being held to this structure may be helpful. Domenic elaborated on this, saying that “some students simply focus better at school. There are less distractions and it is easier to “get into the zone” and focus. Also, the chance to “get the test over with” might work better for some students who feel they are ready or not likely to make use of the extra preparation time given with the online tests.”

In-person testing also brings challenges, which McCall saw as “the stress” because “showing up to a test and being in a room with others and being timed” as well as “the whole prep is just a little bit stressful.” Further, some students may find testing with social distancing procedures, including wearing a mask, as a distraction. 

Between the benefits and drawbacks regarding both testing environments, Domenic and McCall had different preferences about which form of testing they are advising their students to take. For McCall, she believes “with one hundred percent certainty that they should take the test in-person,” as taking an AP Chemistry class online comes with the added difficulty of adapting scientific symbols and equations to an online format and having notes on hand may become a distraction that wastes time during the test, and the College Board has worked to make it difficult for students to cheat on, which McCall worries may mean that the online test will be more challenging. 

Domenic, meanwhile, favors the online test for her AP Literature students. This option may allow students more time to prepare, and many students have extensive practice typing essays, meaning that the digital format should not be an additional challenge. However, in choosing between testing options, Domenic recommended that “students have to decide what “works” for them” based on their personality and preferred learning environment.

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